January 29 1393, Charles VI Attends the Bal de Ardents

It seems that the cards were against Charles VI of France from the start. He inherited the throne at 11 along with the Hundred Years’ War. He inherited a rivalry with the House of Orleans and House of Burgundy and Philip the Bold. For his part, Charles started out with the name Charles the Beloved. He’d die as Charles the Mad.  

But it was on a military expedition in 1392 when things went sideways for Charles the Beloved. The expedition had been taken up to avenge the attempted murder of a friend and it had been recommended against by his advisers. Nevertheless, they set of to Brittany in June. Tromping through a forest near Le Mans, Charles and his horse were accosted by a barefoot leper. Of all the bad omens to befall a person, lepers who can’t afford shoes are among the worst. The leper begged the king to stop his expedition and go home, saying that he had been ‘betrayed.’

Like many of you, I too follow a strict rule of heeding warnings by a guy whose face is falling off. You have to assume he’s made some mistakes in his life. Nevertheless, Charles didn’t listen. And I do get it. If the president was told to leave Detroit by a homeless guy eating his own hair, I wouldn’t expect him to listen. But still, a leper.

Later in the expedition Charles began to act erratically. He became paranoid. He came down with a fever and began to speak in a nonsensical and ‘disconnected’ way. (Think Trump trying to explain calculus). When a drowsy knight dropped a lance against a helmet, the clang sent Charles over the edge. He sprung to life and attacked his own men, killing a few (including the Bastard of Polignac, whose last thoughts were probably that being murdered by a king all but guaranteed that his unfortunate name was going to be in the history books). The king was put in a residence to recuperate and gather his wits. He did half of those things.

Charles took to escaping from his Paris house to run into the streets. They had to wall up the entrances to keep him in. At points he didn’t know who he was or that he was king and probably why he had to wear a big crown around his house. He recognized servants, but not his wife or family. In his delusion, he believed that his body was made of glass. He was terrified that he would break, so he had metal rods sewn into his clothing to protect his frail body. With the mental decline of a king came the desperate attempts of his wife to treat him. She called in an eminent doctor who may not have been a medical man, but had somehow reached the age of 92 in the 14th century, so he might apply leaches to your genitals but he was basically considered a wizard.

The doctor prescribed a ‘program of amusements.’ Essentially, the idea was that if you filled your life with fun, games, and entertainment, you’d have no time to realize that you might be made of a chandelier. It was one of these amusements that led his wife Joanna to arrange the Bal De Ardents – the Ball of the Burning Man.

Masquerade balls were a way for society and royalty to get shitfaced and to make asses of themselves without anyone knowing who had a caricaturist draw their butts a hundred times. The Bal de Ardents combined three of royalty’s favorite things – drinking, hiding behind masks, and talking around fire. Five men dressed in hair suits to look like crazed wild men. This involved DETAILS – tar and coarse hair. In other words, they made themselves into the most flammable things in Paris outside of the wells of actual petroleum under the roads.

Except there weren’t five men, there were six. Somewhere among King Charles’s delusions that people were trying to hurt him or that he needed to escape his own house, he decided that climbing into a suit made of hair and tar would be a great idea. The dance began. Charles among them. He must have been getting a bit of a thrill knowing the secret that one of these wild men was none other than the king of France. Since the event itself was dangerous, no open flames were allowed in the hall. Except nobody remembered to tell the Duke of Orleans – aka the king’s no-good drunken asshole of a brother. He entered the hall and, in order to get a closer look at people covered in flammable wax and hair, raised a lit torch to the dancers. A spark jumped onto one of the hair suits and, as people are well known to not keep a cool head once they’ve been chained together and set on fire, the fire quickly spread to all the dancers – the king included.

Everyone carries around a tale of festivities gone wrong, a time when the bad salmon loaf killed your guests. A time when cats ate the pizza. The whiskey was drunk in the bathroom by your asshole brother in law. Alcohol only exacerbates the level of badness. The Thanksgiving one uncle brought his potato hunting rum and the other uncle wore his red hat. Go back further in history and stories become less awkward and more violent and murder-y. Go back to before the Magna Carta and showing up to a party meant you were genuinely taking your life in your own hands. But at least you’d be drunk while it was happening.

Rome was a great place to die at a party. Roman emperors were famous for throwing dinner parties which involved running through a guest or slaughtering a room of senators who had irked you. Until you were murdered you probably had the time of your life. Roman parties were known for their phenomenal party favors. You were given the serving boy who had waited on you. The Egyptians were no slouches when it came to throwing parties and surely the pharaohs occasionally flexed their powers

Probably the most famous worst dinner party in the world is the one thrown in April on a Friday in 33 AD. The Last Supper has everything one wants in a bad party story – intrigue, murder, wine, the lord and savior of millions, and a guy named Judas. The party is not only famous for one guy having too much wine and selling out his friend, but other friends who get too drunk to do anything about it. In other words – every college party ever. The party solidified the West’s fear of the number 13. Another godly party in Norse mythology has the trickster god Loki crashing a dinner party of the gods (also as guest number 13). The party resulted in Balder’s death and, you know, leads to a series of domino events which resulted in Ragnorak – the apocalyptic battle between the gods and the forces of chaos. So, parties have had some influence. MY GOD MAKE THIS FUNNIER.

Due to the quick thinking of Charles’ niece, who covered him up in her skirts, he survived the ordeal. One other dancer jumped into a vat of wine. The other four dancers died in an unenviable way, in the words of the Monk of Saint Denis ‘they were burned alive – their flaming genitals dropped to the floor.’ In other words, your bad salmon loaf ain’t so bad.

The tragedy had far-reaching consequences. Charles and his family were humiliated. A public outcry for retribution ran through the streets. They were forced to do an apologetic royal progress through the city in humility in history’s first known walk of shame. Charles lost his shit and expelled the Jews a few years later. His brother Louis of Orleans was blamed for the event and people already thought he was a sorcerer, and, cool as that might look on a Tinder profile now, at the time a thing like that made you less popular. Civil war ensued. 200 years of ineffectitude followed. The French still strike.

To celebrate, we drink the flaming Dr. Pepper. This is a drink that is set on fire and dunked in a beer to finish it off.


  • 8 ounces beer
  • 3/4 ounce amaretto
  • 1/4 ounce overproof rum


  • Fill a pint glass halfway with beer
  • Add the amaretto to a shot glass and top with the rum
  • Set the rum on fire and very carefully drop the shot glass into the beer.
  • Chug until you see into time.
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